While we all strive to be moisturized from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet, our tootsies often prove to be a bit more challenging when it comes to hydration. The reason? We’re constantly putting pressure on our feet, which often leads the already dry skin on our heels and soles to harden and thicken. Dry and callused feet can also manifest as the result of hormonal changes, environmental factors, and even wearing closed shoes and socks.
The good news is that there is plenty you can do to soothe, soften, and save your tired feet, and we talked to a board certified foot and ankle surgeon and a licensed medical pedicurist for their expert advice. Here’s what you need to know about at-home foot care treatments.
1. Foot Soaks
The skin on your feet is thicker than the skin on the rest of your body, and a soak can help soften dry skin before removing it. There are plenty of sumptuous soaks on the market, but simply submerging your feet for 20 minutes in warm soapy water will do the trick. The temperature of the water is actually the most important factor. Water that’s too cold won’t yield the results you need, while scorching hot water will be uncomfortable and unsafe. A water temperature between 92 degrees and 100 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, but, if you don’t have a thermometer, you’ll know you hit the sweet spot when the water is toasty without stinging your feet.
While soaking your feet in water is generally considered safe and effective, you should consult with your doctor if you have open wounds, sores, or suffer from dry feet as the result of a medical condition like diabetes. It’s also important to follow up a soak with a moisturizing lotion or balm (more on that below!) or you run the risk of exacerbating any dryness or cracking.
Paraffin Wax Treatments
If you are looking for a more spa-like take on the classic soak, paraffin wax treatments replace water with a cozy wax bath. “Because it’s a natural emollient, wax adds moisture when applied to the skin, creating a barrier that helps your body retain the oils that it naturally produces,” says William Spielfogel, DPM, chief of podiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital-Northwell Health and co-founder of Dr.’s Remedy Nail Care. As he explains, paraffin wax is “often used as a physical therapy modality for painful joints in people with arthritis.” On the cosmetic end of the spectrum, “it can help to keep the skin moist and soft,” he adds.
Paraffin waxes are popular in professional treatments, but they’re also safe for at-home use, provided you follow the instructions on your device to the tee. Generally speaking, you’ll heat up wax in a small tub, then dip your feet (hands and/or elbows work, too) in the tub several times to create a thick layer of wax on your feet. You can then peel the wax off or prolong the nourishing benefits by wrapping your feet in plastic or towels and letting it set before removing it.
Like water baths, Dr. Spielgofel says to make sure the temperature of the wax isn’t too hot; avoid areas with any open wounds; and, if you have an underlying condition like poor blood circulation or numbness in the hands or feet, consult with your doctor first. As for timing, Marcela Correa, a licensed medical pedicurist and founder of Medi Pedi NYC, suggests a weekly paraffin treatment — especially during the winter months when skin is driest.
- Our Picks: This paraffin bath from Conair is compact and perfect for soaking small areas (think: heels, hands, elbows), while this larger Ejiubas tub comes with a thermometer and thermal mitts.
2. Manual Exfoliation
The same way manual (a.k.a. physical) exfoliation can smooth the skin on your face and body, your feet can also benefit from a good scrub. However, there’s one thing to keep in mind before scouring your dry trotters: Be gentle! While we’re all guilty of grabbing a foot file and going to town, the skin on your feet is not as indestructible as it looks. Your movements should be vigorous but not rough, and, if you feel any pain or discomfort, slow down or stop completely.
Pumice stones are one of the most popular foot exfoliation methods, and the power of the small but mighty stone lies in the fact that pumice is a type of volcanic rock that is formed when frothy lava cools and hardens. Pumice stones should always be coupled with a foot soak, but many people don’t know that you also need to soak the actual pumice stone as well, as a dry pumice stone will be too abrasive for safe usage.
After soaking your feet and the pumice stone, rub the stone across the soles of your feet in a light but firm manner, paying special attention to the areas that are experiencing the most dryness. This should take no more than five minutes, and you can repeat this process weekly. Afterwards, rinse and moisturize your feet, wash the pumice stone with soap and water, and then set it aside to dry completely. These last two steps are essential to avoid bacteria buildup on the stone.
Foot files are another great option for dry and/or callused feet. They can be made of metal, stainless steel, ceramic, or even glass, which make them less prone to bacteria concerns than pumice stones. Depending on the file, it may be able to be used on wet or dry skin, so be sure to read the directions first!
To avoid damaging healthy skin, Correa says to always apply moisturizer first. From there, buff in the same direction as any cracks with a single-use foot file. She tells clients to do this once a week for best results.
- Our Picks: The Amope Pedi Electronic Foot File is quick and easy to use, while Neogen’s Glass Foot File is designed to last forever (yes, forever). Correa personally recommends the Cuccio Metal File, which comes with a year’s worth of disposable refill sheets.
3. Chemical Exfoliation
When you think about chemical exfoliation on the feet, you probably think of the ever-popular Baby Foot, which, full disclosure, I love. Foot peels often use a combination of alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids (think: glycolic, lactic, salicylic) to kickstart that intense dead skin shedding process. While the experience can be deeply satisfying, not all experts are convinced it’s the best way to care for the feet.
Correa, for one, doesn’t recommend foot peels for her patients. “When it comes to skin and calluses, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach,” she says. “Not all dead skin is meant to be removed, and by using a peel that targets all areas, you're risking hyper-sensitivity to the already healthy areas of your foot.” Another problem with at-home peels? They can lead to missed diagnoses. “Most people who are self-diagnosing at home might confuse skin abnormalities such as psoriasis, eczema, or warts as normal calluses,” she shares. If you do decide to go ahead with a foot peel, she advocates for consulting with an expert first to make sure it’s the right treatment option for you.
While Dr. Spielfogel has similar reservations, he ultimately believes foot peels are safe for most people. “Anyone with underlying medical issues such as diabetes or poor circulation should consult their podiatrist or PCP before attempting any type of peel,” he says. “But, for most people, Baby Foot is safe.” There are, however, some key exceptions. “It should not be used if you have any open wounds or sores, and I do not recommend it if someone has eczema or sensitive skin,” he adds.
With a chemical foot peel, you’ll put your feet inside the peeling ‘shoes’ provided in the package (some brands recommend a foot soak first) for about an hour. After the allotted time, rinse off the solution and mentally prepare for your feet to begin peeling in about four to five days. Daily soaks will speed up the peeling process, but please be warned: The peeling is pretty dramatic. Expect to find dead skin and flakes on your sheets and in your socks and know that your feet will look pretty dry and flaky for a week or two. Needless to say, it’s best to do a foot peel before sandal season.
Timing wise, foot peels are not meant to be used weekly or even monthly. At most, schedule your peels for about twice a year.
- Our Picks: The original Baby Foot is a classic for a reason, but we’ve also had luck with Lavinso’s version.
4. Foot Cream
If you’re looking for the simplest place to start an at-home foot care routine, regular moisturizing with a foot cream is it. An effective moisturizer is the key to keeping the skin healthy and strong, and it can and should be paired with any of the treatments mentioned above.
Popular foot hydrators include glycerin and ceramides (yes, the same ones that work wonders on your face), and Correa also recommends finding a formula with urea — a humectant that hydrates by drawing water from the deeper layers of your skin and the air. Oh, and it had a dual benefit. “Footcare products with urea are great for both exfoliating and moisturizing because it breaks down the protein keratin in the outer layer of your skin to help reduce dead skin buildup and get rid of flaking or scaling skin,” she explains.
Dr. Spielfogel likes foot creams with glycolic acid for a similar reason. The fruit acid sloughs off dead skin cells while it nourishes. He suggests slathering it on at bedtime and then sleeping with socks for maximum penetration. And while lotions often are great for quick absorption, your feet can likely benefit from a heavier hydrator like a rich cream, balm, or salve.
- Our Picks: The Ebanel 40% Urea Cream contains double the minimum recommended concentration (20 percent) of the active for deep exfoliation. We also like the Bliss Aloe Leaf & Peppermint Foot Cream for its softening blend of AHAs, BHAs, pantothenic acid (read: vitamin B5), and peppermint oil. This spring, Dr.’s Remedy will release its Foot Finisher Therapeutic Foot Balm, which combines mango and cocoa seed with tea tree oil and shea butter to smooth skin while fighting aches and pains.
Dry, dull, and tired feet can be easily treated by a number of over-the-counter remedies, and it’s really up to you to choose which method works best for your needs. “When choosing the appropriate treatment for your skin type — no matter if it’s at home or a doctor’s office — it is important to research the risks and benefits thoroughly prior to committing,” Dr. Spielfogel cautions. Conditions like athlete’s foot, calluses due to medical conditions like diabetes, and open sores need to be evaluated by a medical professional.
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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